RogerBW's Blog

Outcrossing, Celia Lake 17 September 2022

2018 romantic fantasy, first of its loose series. In a slightly sideways magical 1922, Rufus tries to find work and keep up his cottage in the New Forest, but everyone despises him as one of the few to have come back unharmed from the War. Feronia, of rather better family but having taken work as a governess to escape from an arranged marriage, is one of the people who might take him seriously…

There are parts of this that are clearly intended to appeal to category romance fans: for example, we're told up front that each story in the series (six in this sub-series, fifteen or more all told in this world) is a stand-alone romance with a happy ending. Others are odder: chapters are always short, to the extent that some scenes stretch over multiple chapters. If these books are getting edited at all, it's very light; there were frequent infelicities of phrasing which threw me out of immersion to try to work out what had actually been said, and the dialogue in particular sometimes feels as though it had been written by a non-native speaker of English.

As a romance, this story is very straightforward (with explicit sex): hero and heroine meet, they fall nearly instantly in love, and they try to work out whether and how they can make a life together, with a smuggling gang intervening. But that's not why I read it; rather, I'm interested in the world, the parallel magical England alongside the historical one (but non-magical people just don't happen to go down these particular roads). Of course this could be an excuse to skimp on the research, but we get slightly sideways versions of real trauma, survivor's guilt, class prejudice (Lake is one of the few American writers I've read who can make the English version of this sound authentic), and indeed New Forest tradition… it's quite light fantasy, with people living recognisable historical lives, but there's the feeling of a real secondary world out there.

All right, there's also a deus-ex-machina nobleman who sets everything to rights once he hears about it. But even he doesn't have all the answers.

This is an odd sort of book, and I shall read more.

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